Resilience, Peace and Security

Humanitarian relief must change. Here's how

A girl waits in queue to receive relief food supplies at a hospital. Image: REUTERS/Kabir Dhanji

Elhadj As Sy
Chair of the Board, Kofi Annan Foundation
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Today, there are believed to be more than 120 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. These are people affected by conflicts, like the ones in Syria or Yemen. They are people suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition in communities across the Sahel. They are people struggling to put their lives back together in the aftermath of natural disasters in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley, or in the wake of floods in Central America and South-East Asia.

We have never seen numbers like these. Over the past decade, humanitarian need has grown at a staggering rate. Every indication is that this growth will continue, driven in part by conflicts as well as by factors such as climate change, population growth and displacement, unplanned urbanization and unequal and inadequate access to food, water, health and energy.

Our answer to this challenge cannot simply be more of the same. Support for humanitarian appeals has increased in recent years, but not at the pace that is required to finance a model that is overly focused on response. We need to change. We need to take a longer view, and use more of the resources available to us to strengthen resilience and to leave communities better prepared for the threats that we know they will face.

Such an approach will not only save lives, it will also help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet live those lives with dignity, and with hope.

Two ideas, one approach

This change cannot be delivered by one group or organization working in isolation. These two ideas – that aid needs to do more than simply suture wounds, and that change needs to be widespread – are at the heart of our One Billion Coalition for Resilience.

We – the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies – want to build a truly global coalition of individuals, communities, companies, international organizations and governments working towards a common goal of strengthening community resilience. We want to reach one billion because that is the scale of change that is needed.

Today’s world is beset by challenges, but there are also opportunities. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, has imagined a world in which a billion connected individuals with incredible computing power in their pockets and access to all of human experience ushers in a fourth industrial revolution. “We do not know how the transformations driven by this Industrial Revolution will unfold,” he says.

Some of these transformations are already taking place. Today’s hyper-connected environment means that local communities, organizations and governments are better able than ever before to prepare, coordinate and innovate new solutions to manage and respond to disasters and conflicts.

A humanitarian system reoriented towards resilience will seize on these opportunities, absorbing the information that is available from those who are already on the ground and transferring resources, expertise and responsibility to where they can make the most difference.

Communities should have more than just a voice in humanitarian and development activities. They need to be treated as key partners who identify needs, design solutions and advocate for the changes and resources needed to achieve effective preparedness and mitigation.

A shift in mind-set

Engaging one billion people on the road to their resilience will require a mind-set shift in the way we operate.

First, in an increasingly competitive arena, we will have to find a way to drastically enhance collaborations in which partners will accept to share risks, resources, capabilities and accountability. This pledge for equal partnerships calls for platforms to be established at local, national and global levels and based on common approaches and reporting models.

Second, if our work with communities is designed to make them stronger and better able to withstand shocks, then we should expect their demand for our services to steadily decline. This should also be part of a common accountability framework, and it should method against which our success is measured. More is not always better.

Third, more investment should be channeled through local and national actors who are on the spot before, during and after a crisis. They are also best placed to understand the needs and vulnerabilities of the communities they belong to. Local aid workers and volunteers were pulling survivors from Kathmandu rubble hours before the rest of the world fully understood what had happened. Local volunteers are the ones crossing conflict lines in Syria every day, bringing support and care to people cut off from the rest of the world.

A system on the cusp of transformation

I believe that demand and opportunity have put the humanitarian system on the cusp of an historic transformation. We believe that the One Billion Coalition for Resilience can act as a catalyst in bringing about this change.

Our role in this initiative is to be both the convener and one of the enablers by offering a vehicle to expand our collective reach; to facilitate true and equal partnerships at all levels; to build local, regional and global capacity; and to more effectively mobilize resources. But the ownership of the initiative will lie with the people and communities taking action on their own behalf, with partners and governments, businesses and research institutions committed to building community resilience.

With every new member, the coalition will become more effective, drawing from a larger pool of expertise, ideas and participants all working towards a common goal of improved resilience.

Author: Elhadj As Sy is the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

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Resilience, Peace and SecurityFourth Industrial Revolution
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